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In the past 50 years, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has left the specialized area of underwater diving and entered mainstream medicine. Certified hyperbaric technicians manage the hyperbaric chamber, which contains pure oxygen in a sealed chamber pressurized to 1.5 to three times normal pressure, according to the American Cancer Society. Hyperbaric technicians must obtain certification before they can manage the tank as well as care for the humans inside it.
To work as a hyperbaric technician, you must first have some type of medical training. This experience could range from a medical corpsman to a physician background, according to the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology, the certifying agency for hyperbaric technicians. Nurses, nurses' aides, respiratory therapists, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and physicians' assistants can also take an approved NBDHMT course. After graduation, you must complete 480 hours of clinical internship before you can take the certification exam. You also must undergo a criminal background check to take the certification exam.
Some hyperbaric technicians work in hospitals, administering hyperbaric oxygen therapy to patients with problems such as carbon monoxide poisoning, certain bone or brain infections, gangrenous wounds or delayed radiation injury, according to the American Cancer Society. Others work in outpatient facilities that treat a variety of disorders, some "off-label," meaning that the treatment isn't proven to work for a condition such as autism. At the other end of the spectrum, hyperbaric technicians might work in diving facilities with divers who ascend too quickly and develop the bends from too-rapid decompression. Fighter pilots who climb too quickly or miners who come up from mines too fast can also develop decompression sickness.
Hyperbaric technicians must understand the effects of the therapy on the human body so they can watch for possible patient complications during treatment. This includes a basic knowledge of physics as well as an understanding of anatomy and the behavior of gases. Hyperbaric technicians might also need to perform medical procedures such as EKGs, transcutaneous oximetry or CPR. The technician must also learn how to check the chambers, set up the treatment, document information about the tank, keep it clean and inspect it carefully for problems. Although hyperbaric chambers are generally safe, they can become a fire hazard; around 80 people have died worldwide from explosions or fires within the chambers, the American Cancer Society warns.
The salary for a hyperbaric technician varies depending on the person's medical background as well as where he practices. As of 2013, the average yearly salary in Miami, for example, was just under $40,000, according to SalaryExpert.com, while the annual salary in California was over $50,000 per year. A registered nurse who worked as a hyperbaric technician in the hospital would probably make the same salary as other nurses in the same facility.
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.
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